7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weathervane - Colonial American Doppler

        Earlier this month, my dear state of South Carolina suffered a terrible weather event that caused torrential, unprecedented rain, flooding, loss of life, and devastation that will take us years to recover from. For days on end, I watched TV weathermen point to maps and describe what the moving arrows and different colors meant. I then watched in horror as that data became rife with meaning in the videos of people climbing out second-story windows of their homes as raging flood waters swept away their vehicles and belongings. Water climbed steadily up and up, finally engulfing their homes. The bravery of trained first responders, as well as ordinary people, played out before us as my husband and I sat in the safety and comfort of our home, unable to help. Fortunately, we live on a hill and suffered no damage. Our only inconvenience was having to boil our water for several weeks. But our hearts were broken upon learning that many people, including dear friends and church members, lost everything and upon seeing the havoc wreaked upon our cities, communities, farms, bridges, dams, and roads.

When I began to consider a topic for my Colonial Quills post, I wondered how Colonial Americans forecasted their weather. I came across the fascinating history of weathervanes.

Weathervanes, also called “wind vanes,” are one of the oldest forms of predicting weather. They get their name from the Old English word “fane,” which means flag or banner. They were used as far back as 3,500 years ago in Mesopotamia; by the Chinese in the 2nd century B.C.; by Vikings in the 9th century (bronze depictions of animals and creatures of Norse myth); and by ancient Greeks and Romans on their homes.

Following a papal edict, 9th century Europeans put weathervanes on their church roofs to ward off evil and to proclaim good faith. The edict declared that every church in Christendom must be adorned by a cockerel, a symbol to remind Christians of Peter’s betrayal of Christ: "I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." (Luke 22:34)

 It follows that the rooster was a popular shape for weathervanes in Colonial America. Colonial craftsmen soon began to branch out with designs that included farm animals such as horses, pigs, cows, sailboats, fish, and whales. Indian figures and eagles were also popular. 

Colonial American farmers and sailors used weathervanes and almanacs to help predict weather. It may sound archaic, and mistakes were made, but weathervanes helped with agricultural production and fishing, and so, were a valued contribution to the success of our country.

To commemorate the Revolutionary War, George Washington commissioned a weathervane of a “Dove of Peace” to put on his home at Mount Vernon. When it arrived in August 1787, Washington was in Philadelphia and was concerned about its installation. He wrote to his secretary/nephew, "Great pains...must be taken to fix the points truly; otherwise they will deceive rather than direct - (if they vary from the North, South, East, and West) - one way of doing this may be by my Compass being placed in a direct North line on the ground at some distance from the House."
Dove of Peace weathervane on the cupola
of Mount Vernon.

Thomas Jefferson designed a weathervane so he could read it from inside his home in Monticello.

At his blacksmith's shop, Paul Revere had a weathervane in the shape of a codfish.

How weathervanes work:

Weathervanes must be attached on the highest point of a structure, away from tall buildings, balanced on their rotating axis. Wind blows against a weathervane spinning it, and the end with the least surface area turns into the wind, indicating the wind’s direction.

Here's a montage of some interesting weathervane designs.

Susan F. Craft is the author of the Xanthakos Family Trilogy - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia - inspirational romantic suspense that spans from 1780-1836 and from the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Charleston, SC, and to the NC Outer Banks.


  1. This is so interesting, thank you for researching and writing on this topic.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I was amazed at the different shapes of weathervanes. But then, it became an art form rather than a utilitarian object.

  2. Susan, that is very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Tina, I enjoyed researching this and seeing all the unique designs.

  3. Interesting & informative article, I wasn't aware they went back that far. I'm sure there could be room for error using the weathervane, only in the event that it was not placed according to true North. Weather forecasters of present times are very often incorrect and they hedge their forcasts to make them accurate, using electronics. Back in Colonial times weather was forecasted by the 5 senses, and by those things found in nature such as bugs and animals. The weathervane was what might have be the deciding factor provided it was installed properly. The relied on observation and being aware of what is going on around you. Something folks in this time are losing their skills, and relying on electronics.

    My favorite weathervane in your article was the carriage.

    1. I agree, Faith, that colonials used their senses and were more in tune with nature. My favorite is the ship.


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